Tickets to a space shuttle launch
If you thought America won the space race, history just proved that race was a marathon, not a sprint.
In a world where people nearly 40 years old have never seen a man walk on the moon, perhaps it's not surprising that the passion for rocketing people into space isn't all it once was. Back in 1972, the same year the U.S. was completing its last lunar mission, the Nixon administration launched a plan that would build not only space shuttles, but a shuttle station that would help bring humans to Mars.
That red planet landing never happened, but the shuttles helped put the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit and open up the universe to human eyes, build an International Space Station that will still be a base of operations for NASA and other space programs and has spun off nearly 2,000 everyday technologies, including mobile phone cameras, home insulation, increasingly durable tires and the artificial heart.
The downside was that the program was costing Americans seven cents per person per day, according to the Obama administration, and nearly $210 billion in total. The loss of the space shuttle Challenger and its crew during takeoff in 1986 -- in front of a generation of school students waiting for Christa McAuliffe to become the first teacher in space -- and the disintegration of Columbia in 2003 during reentry also tested the American public's resolve to deal with the human toll of space flight.
The Russian Soyuz program now takes over as space exploration's top dog and serves as the most likely means of taking passengers to and from the International Space Station for the foreseeable future. While Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic vows to make suborbital space flight available for a cost and Boeing is preparing a commercial space capsule, paid trips into space are still the domain of the Russians and their super-rich Space Adventures passengers.
If you still want to see the space shuttle, you'll have to ground your expectations. The Atlantis will be on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Endeavor, meanwhile, will be retiring at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The Discovery will be class-trip fodder at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where it will bump the test shuttle Enterprise as the star attraction.